Not much hope for an Eagle County snowpack rebound | VailDaily.com
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Not much hope for an Eagle County snowpack rebound

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack has an average peak date of April 14, the date when the snowpack is typically the highest it is all winter. Currently, the basin’s snowpack is at just 57 percent of its peak.

That means the river basin needs 740 percent of its average snowpack between now and April 14 to reach that average, according to snowpack telemetry (SNOTEL) data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

There’s not a lot of certainty in predicting the weather, especially with long-range forecasts, but the likelihood of that happening is pretty much inconceivable.

Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor with the National Resources Conservation Service, said even if the area “has a huge April, we still probably wouldn’t reach our average peak.”

“We’re so far below average and things are starting to melt,” Skordahl said.

Looking at the Conservation Service’s SNOTEL data, a line graph shows that the 2011-12 winter has already started to curve downward. The graph, as it appears now, shows the snowpack reaching its peak in early March, not in mid-April when it typically should.

Skordahl said there’s hope for a second little jump in the data, but the snowpack has already been decreasing because of almost no moisture in March and warm enough temperatures to cause a very early melting cycle.

She expects the April 1 data to show statewide average streamflow conditions at 60 percent of average, and maybe lower in some places.

“It’s definitely going to be a low runoff year,” Skordahl said, adding that there are still unknowns, like spring rains, that could change things for the better.

The National Weather Service’s long-range forecasts, however, don’t show much in the way of precipitation in the near future, however.

At opensnow.com, a powder forecasting website, the outlook for “best powder days” points to November 2012. Meteorologist Joel Gratz, who runs the site, wrote that he is “only half joking.”

The warm temperatures continue this week, but there could be a transition day on Sunday with “a bit of snow” by later afternoon, evening or overnight into Monday.

At the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, spokeswoman Diane Johnson said more dry weather means the district will like start discussing things like outdoor water use restrictions for the spring and summer. They’re not quite there yet, though.

“We’re starting to think about it,” Johnson said.

Good news

Statewide, the good news is that last year was a record snow year, which left reservoirs full or almost full. In 2002, a major drought year, reservoirs were low because the previous years had also been grim in terms of precipitation.

Currently, the snow water equivalent – the amount of water actually in the snow – is much lower than it was even in 2002. As of March 20, this year’s snow water equivalent was around 10 inches. In 2002 around the same time, it was closer to 15 inches, according to Eagle River Water and Sanitation District data.

The data also shows the current snow water equivalent as being the lowest out of all of the “low” years on record.

The March 2012 drought update, issued by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Service, states that statewide reservoir storage is 107 percent of average. Streamflow forecasts have declined 5 percent to 10 percent since March 1, however, according to the update.

“The long-term seasonal forecast for late spring (April-June) shows a tilt toward dryness covering much of the state, with the exception of the eastern plains which ‘lean’ toward near-normal moisture,” according to the update. “This, coupled with below-average snowpack, will likely result in earlier runoff. The best chance for increased moisture might derive from a sudden transition to El Nino, but there is only a 20 percent chance that this will occur.”


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